When Ellen Stimson’s 50th birthday began creeping up on her, she decided to do something about it. She read on the internet that women today are living an average of three years longer than their mothers. Her mother lived into her 80s, so she figured she had at least another 30 years to go. Then she broke it down into smaller increments. With only 15,600 weeks left to live, she went to bed thinking that really wasn’t very much time.
“I thought I had better do something pretty important,” Ms. Stimson said during a recent interview at the Black Dog Tavern. “I wanted to learn to play the stand-up bass, but then I had to go get one, find someone to give me lessons. So then I thought, I’ll write a book.”
The result of her calculations is Mud Season, her first book and a nonfiction finalist for a New England Book Award through the Independent Booksellers Association.
Mud Season chronicles her family’s 2003 move from city life in St. Louis to country life in a tiny Vermont town. Life in St. Louis with her husband, three children and a compatible ex-husband had been good to them. The kids were in a great school, she was a successful businesswoman and they took family vacations to places like San Francisco and Italy. But when they fell in love with Vermont on a vacation there, her daughter Hannah asked why didn’t they live there?
“I come from a long line of over-reactors,” Ms. Stimson said “Next thing you know, we moved to Vermont.”
Mud Season, released last October, tells the story of an ambitious Midwestern family eager to embrace everything New England has to offer. They bought a country store and proceeded to go through a series of disasters, from a well-heeled lady driving off with their gas pump still attached to her car to a well-meaning Fourth of July parade they planned but couldn’t get off the ground. She had to call the World War II veterans’ group and tell them it was canceled. A customer also fell through a hole in the floor of the store, even though it was well-marked with bright orange cones while the handyman was replacing floorboards, and the boiler at the store, which Ms. Stimson calls HQCS (short for Horrible Quaint Country Store) finally ruptured, causing the street to flood.
The family no longer owns the store, but Vermont is still home in the off-season. Ms. Stimson has been coming to the Vineyard for a dozen years, spending July in a cottage on Ice House Pond. This will be the setting for part of her second book, released in a few months, titled Good Grief.
“Right now I’m working on the third book, Wear Beige and Keep Your Mouth Shut,” Ms. Stimson added. “It’s about the marrying years and young adulthood. It’s a cautionary tale.”
Ms. Stimson will read from Mud Season at Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 23. Her website is ellenstimson.com.